For some, Good Friday is a day to be somber. It is a time to read the penitential psalms and examine one’s sins. It is a time to confess all your sins and clean out all your mental closets. It is a time to look around the bare cell of your heart for some forgotten fault, yet at the same time being careful to avoid the danger of manufacturing contrition for its own sake. It is a time to mourn that our sins sent Jesus to the cross.
Jesus was . . . betrayed . . . tried . . . denied . . . deserted . . . beaten . . . humiliated . . . crucified . . . for you and me. Good Friday is certainly a day to mourn.
For others, Good Friday is a day for celebration. Bewailing and lamenting your manifold sins does not in itself make up for them. Scouring your soul in a frenzy of spring cleaning only sterilizes it; it does not give it life. While Good Friday is the day we can do nothing at all, it is a time to rejoice because someone else did the terrible work that gave life to the world.
1 Peter 2:24 illustrates both aspects of mourning and celebration.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin . . .
. . . and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
We mourn because Christ died for our sins. He gave us an example that we should die to sin as well. We celebrate because we live to righteousness. We have been healed through his death.
It was June 18, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo. The French under the command of Napoleon were fighting the Allies (British, Dutch, and Germans) under the command of Wellington. The people of England depended on a system of semaphore signals to find out how the battle was going. One of these signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral.
Late in the day it flashed the signal: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N—D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- -.” Just at that moment one of those sudden English fog clouds made it impossible to read the message. The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard the news that their country had lost the war. Suddenly the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could be read. The message had four words, not two. The complete message was: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N- – -D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D- – -T-H-E- – -E-N-E-M-Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat was turned into victory!
So it was when Jesus was laid in the tomb on the first Good Friday afternoon. Hope had died even in the hearts of Jesus’ most loyal friends. After the frightful crucifixion, the fog of disappointment and misunderstanding had crept in on the friends of Jesus. They had “read” only part of the divine message. “Christ defeated” was all that they knew. But then on the third day—Easter Sunday—the fog of disappointment and misunderstanding lifted, and the world received the complete message: “Christ defeated death!” Defeat was turned into victory; death was turned to life!
Good Friday is not a day for mourning. We should be sobered because of what Jesus did for us. But he took our place on the cross because he loved us. Good Friday is a day to celebrate the grace of God.